17-05-08

Spinoza's Causal Theory of the Affects

 "(..) it is correct to insist, as Spinoza does (..), that ´the Body cannot determine the Mind in thinking, and the Mind cannot determine the Body to Motion". We should take this to mean that we cannot infer from a cause described in physical terms that a specific mental event will ensue as effect (..): mental and physical concepts belong to independent explanatory systems." D. Davidson in Truth, Language, and History, Oxford University Press (2005), p. 305-306.


I spared me the jargon. The thought that comes can do without. One should  wonder about the mind and the body. It is one of the classical wonders that stays actual. There are those who believe in scientific achievement instead of scientific method; they think the mind & the mental are merely convenient, or just a soft escape for the weak of mind. But the majority is still held - with an extremely wide margin - by those believing the mind is fully detached from all the merely material claims of science, & that deep truths are reserved for the spiritual. Both extremes have been and are instinctively repulsive to me.
The third way, the middle way, the way of Horace is to reconcile mind & body as independent but interconnected. Monism, with a twist, the type of monism Davidson has sought to establish bringing together historical thoughts, & his own modern language philosophy. Can there be 2 spheres that are, at the same time, independent and interconnected? Let me not run of into abstract musings but take my example, from the heart of the present matter.

If one - not just instinctively - thinks one wants to raise one´s arm there is really no issue whatever in connecting that thought to brain activity and that brain activity to activating nerves in turn controlling the arm's muscles. Only those that are ludicrously maintaining knowledge of the Dark Ages outdoes present-day knowledge would challenge this. Let´s not bother here with the ridiculous. The interconnection, some form of physicalism, is established. But the interconnection does not suffice for strict dependence. It would be quite feasible to measure the brain activity during that thought & it would then be quite demonstrable that, even in the same person, that same thought with that same result would not be characterized by exactly the same brain wave activity. As a thought experiment one can very well imagine severe damage to the brain not impairing having that thought and not impairing that thought to lead to the arm raising. If so, and not many people would doubt it enough to actually go to the trouble of doing the experiment, the thought & physical brain activity are not strictly paired. In fact, it is quite sufficient to note that different people can have a similar thought with a similar consequence - this is in itself enough to show that the actual physical brain activity that has to go along with such a thought is not, & cannot be, a determining factor even if, physically speaking, it is always the brain activity that results in the arm's raising (& never the thought itself). We should not be tempted into the futile simple solution of telekinesis.

I am sure Davidson and others would find this reasoning sloppy. It probably is, but I do not have the luxury of refining it. Sloppy or not, it is convincing in illustrating Davidon´s point of there being no strict laws coupling the mental and the physical. As a behaviourist of sorts this kind of illustration is crucial. It does not establish that there is something spiritual that somehow evades or floats over the material world. But it does show that the sphere of thought is not limited to the sphere of what is given physically, it allows for imagination.
The imagination it allows is linguistic & creative. In thinking we cannot realize things in the material world that would go against the physical laws but we can - & do- create in our imagination possible material connections (a key & a lock) that we subsequently can realize materially, as longs as they don´t defy any physical laws. The only limit to this creativity then is what is physically at all possible. Nevertheless, the beauty of language is such that it's physically possible to communicate in it between bodies. There are only linguistic limits to what can be expressed in such communication (we have science fiction to prove we needn´t bother here anymore with physical laws).
Because of this - although for sure I will have to explain this in more detail in another place - I don´t believe Davidson´s brand of monism can be correct. Mental explanation is not merely independent in explanatory ways, it is quite radically independent, a world on its own just needing a physical substratum more or less like fish need a liquid substratum.

Again, establishing the mental, through language, as independent is not at all establishing any spritualist or dualist claim. The physical world has given rise through evolution to biological species with linguistic abilities. Such kind of species have established thought & all things mental. These things do not live isolated from the material world but just happen to be able to express a thing or two without restrictions of the physical world (as long as there is a physical world with the relevant features in which things can be expressed).
So, don´t please go overboard on this: the mind, the spiritual & so on, & so forth did not exist before material things existed. Nor do they exist as long as the material world existed. Physicality predates mentality. It´d be interesting as a scientific exercise to date mentality, it would be a convenient way not to have the New Age´rs go astray time & again.
One may well make stories in which people lift weights merely by thinking to make it so but one will never actually lift those weights in that way.


Whilst writing this I was listening to Shostakovich-Silvestrov, Gryphon Trio, Aline Kutan, Analekta 2006.

(to be redone)

21:49 Gepost door Guido Nius in Muziek | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: davidson, intention, convergence, tones, language |  Facebook |

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